Derek Linzy, a piano and guitar teacher at the Music & Arts in Conyers, Georgia, sat down with the Music & Arts team to talk about piano techniques and fundamentals for beginners. Derek has worked in the music industry over a 15 year span, and in that time has worked as an audio engineer for Prince, and as an instructor for educational workshops for universities, middle schools, and high schools, before he decided to teach piano, guitar, music production, and audio engineering in a private setting.
The Fundamentals: Intervals
When it comes to teaching the fundamentals to new piano students, Derek focuses on exercises, especially intervals. While some teachers prefer to stick to the lesson book, Derek finds that jumping ahead of the book in this area is more beneficial down the line. He’ll have them play all five intervals, just so they get familiar with intervals and pitch. By starting slow and gradually moving faster with both hands, he’s helping his students build speed and recognize pitch early on: two very important things for budding musicians to build fluency in from the start.
The Importance of Practice
As a teacher, you’ve probably heard (and said!) this a million times, but Derek agrees: students can ONLY get better from practicing. He recommends that new piano students practice no less than 30 minutes a day, outside of the time they spend in classes, but the more they can practice the better. Teachers are there to teach things like technique, but true improvement and added skill only comes from practicing.
One important part of practicing is setting realistic goals. As a teacher, it’s important to understand what your students want to achieve 2-3 months from now, and work with them to come up with a realistic way of achieving that goal. Managing expectations of students is super important: nobody will become the next pop sensation over night, but with enough dedication and practice they can work their way towards that goal gradually.
Derek’s Strategy: Try It!
One of the hardest parts about being a music teacher is sitting down with a brand new student and having no idea what their skill level is. Some know some technique but can’t read music, and others have never touched a piano before. The strategy he uses is sitting down with every brand new student and asking them to play whatever they want to play. He does the same thing two or three months down the line as a way for them to understand how much they’ve improved. (Hint: try recording them at every check-in as a way for them to really see their improvement for themselves.)
From there, you can customize all curriculum based on their pre-existing skill set and expectations. Most new students who come in the door are beginners, but some start at a slower pace. By adjusting the curriculum to fit them and their learning pace, they’ll understand more and have more fun.
His Final Words of Advice
When asked for what his most important advice is for students, he said “That’s easy. Start slow!” Students shouldn’t get discouraged by someone who is playing light years ahead of them. Instead of becoming discouraged by someone else, look at them as a source of motivation. Practice makes perfect, and nobody became a professional musician days, months, or even years after picking up their instrument for the first time.
Visit Derek at our Conyer, Georgia school if you’re interested in taking lessons from a pro. If you don’t live nearby, don’t worry–all our teachers hand-picked and highly qualified! Find a store near you today!
Derek began his professional recording and music Production career back in 2002 and has not looked back since. “I say professionally because it was the first time I was actually making a living off of what was just deemed as a hobby at the time. Most of it was just recording and producing demos for up and coming local musicians in my hometown of Champaign, Illinois with my younger brother”. In short, we were just having some fun with it and kept things rolling.”
Over a 14- year span to the present day, that “Fun” has led Derek to have been gracious enough to have worked with Music Legend Prince (Audio Engineer at Paisley Park Studios 2013) Coolio (Music Producer) The Oxygen Channel (Music composer for “Coolio’s Rules” in 2008) Chuck D of Public Enemy, and “The Real Rickey Smiley show “to name a few.
On working with Prince: “Working with Prince was perhaps the biggest career high thus
far. Staying around for as long as I did with him shoulder to shoulder Recording, Editing and mixing unreleased studio tracks with him and his new group 3rd Eye Girl, was a phenomenal experience. More than anything you learn a lot working with him and he seems to teach you without really teaching you. Being around such a musical genius in their element, and dealing with the constant pressure and demand of making his recordings sound great, always seems to elevate your game on so many levels professionally.”